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Project D15

The Heroic in 21st-Century British Television Series: Discourses and Aesthetic Strategies of a Popular Medium

Dr. Nicole Falkenhayner
Prof. Dr. Barbara Korte
Maria-Xenia Hardt

English Department

Interpretations of the heroic are significantly influenced and negotiated by popular media. This British Studies project applies this thesis to an analysis of British television. The focus of this project is an analysis of the 21st century – the increase in security threats post-9/11 and the subsequent needs for national security, all of which appear to have changed the "post-heroic" orientation of the late 20th century. The goal of this project is to better identify and define the heterogeneity found in the ways figurative and semantic characteristics of heroism are shaped in British society through television. In this medium, heroization becomes intertwined with social discourse and specific medial and aesthetic strategies. Fictional television series thus offer particularly productive material, as they not only depict heroic figures, narration and concepts through various symbolic systems and codes; they also display these continuously and prominently. Television series allow heroically conceived figures to develop and audiences become acquainted with them over a longer period of time, while also ambivalently and critically illuminating characters' actions and ethical nature.

This project includes two subprojects: a) One relies on a corpus of popular British series from the 21st century to characterize and analyse the figuration and semantic configuration of heroism in British society; b) in the second subproject, a corresponding dissertation will further research changes in figuration since the 1960s, using the example of Doctor Who. An additional focus here will be on the interpretation of the multi-modal series episodes themselves while questioning cultural-discursive and formal-aesthetic aspects of heroization.

In addition to presenting these research results in a national and international context, this project will also result in two books. The first (Korte & Falkenhayner) will research a wide variety of fictional series produced between 2002 and 2015, during which a new-found intensity and quality in the analysis of heroism emerged – particularly in reference to the intertwining nature of Islamic terrorism and war in multi-ethnic British society, as well as contemporary debates about British identity. The second (Hardt) is a dissertation project that will complement this contemporary interpretation by analysing the series Doctor Who from the 1960s to the present and its relationship to heroic figurations in social and cultural contexts in Great Britain.